Don’t Hate the Copy Cat

I’ve struggled over the years with artists who steal from other artists and purport to call their work original. I will never endorse people who steal ideas from other people and turn a profit. The age of piracy and duplication concerns me.

As the original author of a piece of work, you feel robbed. And you should. But that’s the glass half empty view. If people are copying you, that means you’re worth copying. Take pride in that. Many of my wisest mentors always carried a delicate smile when they declared piracy of their IP because it affirmed that people care. If your work is being stolen, find a way to take advantage of that. Other people are marketing your work for you. That’s a good thing. Use it.

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Broadcast Contracts Will Kill Hollywood

It does not surprise me that Game of Thrones is the most pirated show on television. Without cable, I have no way to watch it. I’d happily pay $20 per month if HBO GO was open to people without cable subscriptions. Unfortunately, that’s not that case. None of HBO’s shows are available on iTunes, Netflix, Hulu or Amazon. I have no way to watch any of HBO’s shows except pay a $75 per month cable subscription for a television I don’t have, wait for them to come out on DVD, or pirate them. I’m a good boy with little expendable time, so I avoid Game of Thrones altogether. But 25 million people have not been angels and found the show through whatever means necessary. Who knows how many more people opt out entirely and forever pass the show by?

I’ve said before that Hollywood should concern themselves less with piracy and more with audience access. Simple supply and demand metrics – audiences demand content and providers are failing to supply to increasingly popular internet channels. It’s the whole industry’s fault for inciting piracy. They are missing out on an expanding margin of customers. In defense of HBO and others, production companies have entangled themselves in lucrative and restricting contracts with cable partners. To offer direct-to-consumer digital distribution would breach their contracts and deprive them of their single strongest revenue source. For most companies like HBO, that may never happen – at least not until everyone has internet televisions or the cable providers themselves die.

Broadcast contracts may be a reasonable excuse for holding content back from web distribution. But if companies plan to stand behind that excuse, they need to stop making such a big deal about piracy. By threatening or incriminating millions of people who cannot access your primary distribution method, you are alienating potential evangelists of your content and failing to understand the trajectory of your market. Web television is not a trend. In five years, most motion picture content will be consumed online – on connected televisions, game consoles, mobile devices or computers. To fight or deny this is foolish and egoistic.

I left Hollywood because no companies were willing to put the engineering muscle behind personal distribution channels. Beyond sheer web design and database builds, online services require customer service and billing infrastructure that can cost a lot of money. Fortunately, these things are getting easier and cheaper. An independent production company with enough content to leverage could easily set up shop on the web with a very controllable investment and small handful of people on the tech side.

If you want a sustainable career in the movie business, start or work for a company with full digital rights. Careful signing onto productions with traditional broadcast contracts and no digital rights – these opportunities, no matter how lucrative, are sinking ships. If they cannot find a way to breach contracts soon, they may not survive the next wave of liberated web-savvy competitors.

Protest

I keep my mouth shut and seldom declare my stance on tabled issues in public. I avoid stirring the pot for the sake of it and do what I can to preserve my nonpartisan relationships. But when it comes to legislation or executive decisions that may invariably keep my mouth shut against my will, I speak up.

I learned a lot from Hollywood in the five years that I studied and worked in Los Angeles. I respect and support the industry’s need to fight piracy. To produce and spread content on a sustainable scale requires considerable revenue chains that dare not waver. Due largely to the size of teams necessary to complete them, films will always be expensive to produce. Losing control of your content – and thereby losing the ability to recoup costs on your production – is a huge issue and must be curtailed.

That said, I do not respect Hollywood’s conservative grapple-hold on content in an antiquated scarcity model. While the studios contend that they make more by staggering the release of a film across all mediums, these rigid exhibition windows from theater to home regularly deprive hungry consumers of content they want to consume. The Hollywood release model is effectively inspiring piracy – not because people want to maliciously destroy the industry, but because people want to consume content and cannot do so when and where they want. Street vendors in the third world do not sell ripped DVDs as an attack on studios or because tickets are too expensive; they do it because Hollywood failed to make the content available in their market. Contemporary piracy stems more from accessibility issues than anything else. Hollywood is utterly failing to provide. By holding product close to the chest, the entertainment industry is failing to reach customers, scale brands at the contemporary pace necessary to survive, and collect the money of eager and willing fans. The media industry is killing itself. They need no help from pirates.

Out of desperation and a lazy aversion to change, entertainment turned to lobbyists to craft a bill that would effectively give our government the power to censor or shut down websites. There are constitutional ways to fight piracy; the Stop Online Piracy and Protect Intellectual Property Acts are not it. To learn more about the bills, I encourage you to watch this video.

Tomorrow between 5am and 5pm MST, I will join many Internet companies – including Wikipedia and Google – in protesting these bills by shutting down my site. You will not be able to read my blog.

Under the First Amendment, we have the right to contest any act abridging the freedom of speech. We have the freedom to protest and stand up for our rights. Do not dismiss protests as mass whining or vanity noise. Without protest and public forums for opinion, women would not have the right to vote and many of us would still own slaves. Do not take the freedom of expression lightly. Celebrate your voice at every possible turn. Use it when you can.

Bootlegging Yourself (Marketing Controversy 101)

A few days ago, a bootlegged version of a red band trailer for David Fincher’s latest film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, hit YouTube with a vengeance. Before Sony Pictures pulled it for “a copyright claim,” the video had nearly 2 million hits after only two days. There is speculation that Sony launched the trailer themselves to kick-start a viral marketing campaign. Whether or not this is true, the video’s premature release certainly did not hurt Sony or the film. The leak was awarded widespread coverage in press and online. If audiences were not aware the hit novel trilogy was being adapted for the American screen, they definitely are now.

I find the entertainment industry’s preoccupation with piracy amusing. Sure, I am a filmmaker and can appreciate revenue lost to piracy. But as veteran studio executive Bill Mechanic once pointed out to me, “Pirating means that people want to see your movie.” As I see it, stolen entertainment media suggests one of two things: your content is not good enough to pay for or too difficult for the average consumer to find. Both problems are your fault and worth solving. iTunes rivaled music piracy by promoting easier access to music: it became easier to buy a song on iTunes than steal it from a torrenting site. With bandwidth evolving and platforms like Netflix and YouTube on the rise, movie studios are running out of excuses not to open their libraries. Simple: help audiences consume the entertainment they want to consume. Most people will gladly pay for that. And pirates will help spread the word in the meantime.

But I digress. In a world saturated by media noise, it has become necessary for marketing materials to have unique stories wrapped around them. The Dragon Tattoo leak promoted three levels of discussion: the bootlegging of the trailer in the first place, whether or not Sony released it on purpose, and finally the irresistible quality of the content presented. Trailer discussion spread the word and inadvertently spread the message: “She’s coming.”

Movie studios should bootleg themselves more often. And you should too.